Fake news has always existed but the term has gained a lot of attention of late, first because of US President Donald Trump’s use of the phrase, and more recently, because of the Facebook-Cambridge Analytica data scandal. News is primarily a source of information, which means fake news is the opposite. It is a source of false information that is deliberately spread around to fool people, according to the Merriam Webster dictionary.
Fake news has been used to hide the truth from people and manipulate their feelings about major political events – like the US presidential election and the Brexit referendum in Britain in 2016. An example of this would be the news in the run-up to the election that Hillary Clinton was not in good health, making people more inclined to believe that Trump would be a better leader.
So how do we stop ourselves from falling into the trap of believing fake news? One of the best ways to do this is to maintain good news literacy. This means knowing how to read the news and how to interpret information. Another way is to verify it yourself. Here are four top tips to help you verify even the most innocuous news items.
Use Google Reverse Image Search
A lot of the fake news comes in the form of pictures. Photos that try to convey some information, but are actually from another entirely unrelated incident are common on social media.
One of the easiest ways to check whether the photo is real is to upload the image you want to check onto reverse.photos, and run a search from there. This will help you see if the photo is what it says it is; whether it comes from the scene of an event, or whether someone posted a random picture which they say shows something significant.
Use Google Street View
This method won’t be as often reliable nor as versatile as others, but it is great if you need to see, for example, whether a building had been built by a certain year. The Google Street View doesn’t just map streets once – they take photos of the same place over a number of years.
When you have the location you want to check on your map, see if it has multiple photos associated with it, by looking for a small clock icon under the address in the top left corner. Click to see a full timeline of that location.
Use the Wayback Machine
Head to archive.org/web to use this digital archive. It is valuable for tracking a website’s changes over time.
With digital media, writers can change the content of a news piece at any time, and deny it was ever different. The Wayback Machine takes a snapshot, sometimes many times per day, of every website. This makes it easy for you to, for example, track what a blog or a commentator has said or is saying, and if they’ve deleted or added anything.
Use your gut feeling
The most important skill to have is scepticism – to doubt the truth of what you’re seeing or hearing. If something seems off or too good to be true, it probably is. Trust your instincts. Pair these gut reactions with detailed observations about the event, as well as the above-mentioned tools, and you will be very unlikely to be tricked by fake articles and news.